Talking to European newspaper “Politico Europe”, EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn says he is “very confident” that the negotiations with Macedonia and Albania could start next year.

In the interview, Hahn explains that the process of vetting the countries before negotiations has already begun.

“This is a very comprehensive work and I hope we can conclude it in a year to 14 months. The aim is really to get a green light by all member states middle of next year,” said Hahn recalling the EU Council’s agenda in June 2019 to return to the start of negotiations with Macedonia and Albania when member states are expected to give the green light if the conditions set are fulfilled.

For Macedonia these conditions relate to the reformation of the security services, public administration and the fight against corruption, including high levels of crime.

The European Commissioner also addressed the French blockade of enlargement, which has irritated most of the member states and the European Commission.

French President Emmanuel Macron believes that the EU should focus on reforming itself before it can expand, an argument where Hahn draws a parallel. The EU Commissioner points out that citizens of Western Balkan countries “have the right to become (EU) members” and that the EU “faces a choice between exporting stability to the region or having instability imported into the bloc”.

“My point is maybe a little different from President Macron, maybe we can convince him that both have to be done in parallel,”Hahn told Politico Europe.

One of Hahn’s warnings why the EU needs to be refocused on the Balkans is that other major powers are increasingly turning to the Balkans. Although Russia is often mentioned in this context, the EU Commissioner also talks about the increase of Chinese investments.

Hahn is concerned that Beijing could turn countries in the region into “Trojan horses” that would one day become EU members. One of the examples cited by Hahn is the construction of a highway in Montenegro, financed by China.

“I think we should be aware about the strategic concept by China and react in an adequate manner. I think this will be one of the great challenges of Europe,” said Hahn.